Articles Posted in Fatal Trucking Accidents

One question that frequently comes up when discussing how a Maryland truck accident victim can recover for their injuries is whether the at-fault truck driver’s employer can also be held responsible. As is often the case with legal determinations, the answer depends on the circumstances surrounding the accident and the relationship between the parties.

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. As a general matter, to establish an employer’s liability a plaintiff must show that the employee’s allegedly negligent actions were within the scope of their employment.

Under Maryland case law, courts look beyond the question of whether the employee’s actions occurred while the employee was working for the employer, and focus instead on whether the employee’s actions were in furtherance of the employer’s business. Simplified, courts look to whether the employee’s actions were incidental to their job. However, before courts get to this question the plaintiff must first establish that an employee/employer relationship existed. A recent case illustrates how this situation may arise.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important evidentiary concept that frequently arises in Maryland personal injury cases. The case required the court to determine whether evidence of the plaintiff’s mental health issues and intoxication should be admitted under the rules of evidence.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed when she was struck by a truck that was driving at a low speed. The evidence was conflicting, but the ultimate issue in the case was whether the plaintiff walked out in front of the truck and, if so, whether the truck driver waved toward the plaintiff to go ahead of him.

The defense wanted to introduce evidence that the plaintiff suffered from mental health issues and had alcohol and drugs in her system at the time of the accident. The plaintiff objected, arguing that the proposed evidence was far more prejudicial than it was probative, and thus should be excluded.

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After a Maryland truck accident, the injured party may pursue a claim for compensation against all potentially responsible parties. Therefore, it is not uncommon that a jury will return a verdict against multiple parties. Under state law, the jury must assign a portion of fault to each of the defendants.

Once the jury has determined each party’s percentage of fault, the defendants will each be required to compensate the plaintiff accordingly. However, the issue frequently arises that one or more of the defendants do not have the resources to pay the plaintiff. This puts the plaintiff in the position of having secured a judgment that they cannot enforce. To solve this problem, Maryland lawmakers have enacted a joint-and-several liability framework that allows for a plaintiff to recover the total damages award from any of the responsible parties.

Joint and Several Liability

Under Maryland’s joint and several liability statute, each of the defendants who are determined to be responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries are responsible for the full amount of damages awarded. It is then up to a defendant who overpaid their share to seek contribution from the other defendants. This shifts the burden of collecting payment away from an innocent plaintiff and onto the defendants. Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating the concept of joint and several liability.

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One of the most critical decisions that must be made early on in a Maryland personal injury case is which parties to name as defendants and which claims to pursue. This is particularly important in Maryland truck accidents because truck drivers are frequently working at the time of the accident. Thus, the circumstances of a truck accident often mean that a truck driver’s employer and the owner of the truck should also be considered as potential defendants.

Under Maryland law, there are several theories of liability that may come into play in truck accident cases. A recent case discusses two commonly conflated claims, and illustrates why they are unique from one another.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was killed in a motorcycle accident when a truck driver attempted to make an improper left turn as the plaintiff approached the intersection. The truck driver was working at the time of the crash, and was later found to be under the influence of prohibited prescription medication.

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Any time a truck driver’s negligence results in a Maryland truck accident, the responsible parties may be liable to the victims of the accident for their injuries. In the event that other motorists involved in the accident are killed, the surviving family members may consider filing a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit.

Maryland’s Wrongful Death Statute

Under Maryland Code section 3-904, the surviving loved ones of an accident victim can pursue a wrongful death claim seeking compensation for the loss of their loved one. In order to successfully recover in a Maryland wrongful death claim, a plaintiff must first establish that they are a proper party.

Maryland law allows for a “primary beneficiary” to bring a wrongful death claim. A primary beneficiary is anyone who is the spouse, child, or parent of the deceased. If the deceased does not have a primary beneficiary, then a secondary beneficiary can bring a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit. A secondary beneficiary is defined as anyone who was related to the deceased by blood or marriage, and was “substantially dependent” upon them.

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Any time a motorist’s vehicle breaks down on the highway, it’s a stressful occasion. The first thought in most motorists’ minds after a breakdown is ensuring that they are able to stop the car safely and park it in a secure location. After that, however, a motorist’s attention likely shifts to the logistics of how to get the car to a repair shop, gas station, or back home.

Leaving a vehicle on the side of the highway, of course, is very dangerous. Passing motorists may not be paying attention and can run into a roadside vehicle, even if it is not blocking a lane. In fact, each year there are hundreds of Maryland roadside accidents involving parked or disabled vehicles on the side of the road.

Determining fault in a roadside accident can be tricky. For instance, if the motorist was safely parked on the side of the highway and was not obstructing any of the lanes, the passing motorist may be at fault. However, if a driver leaves a portion of their vehicle protruding into a lane of travel the passing motorist may not be at fault. These cases depend heavily on the specific facts surrounding the accident.

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In Maryland truck accident cases, the plaintiff must be able to establish each of the elements of their claim in order to be successful. Simply stated, these elements are duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing the causation element of a negligence lawsuit. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s case should proceed toward trial based on the fact that the defendant truck driver created a substantial risk of harm to the plaintiff when he parked on the side of the highway.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was traveling on the highway shortly before 7:00 a.m. when he approached a semi-truck that had been parked on the side of the road. The truck, which was occupied by the defendants, was parked in the emergency lane, about ten inches away from the nearest lane of travel.

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When a jury returns a verdict in a plaintiff’s favor, the jury will then move to the next stage of the process where it determines the appropriate amount of damages that the plaintiff or plaintiffs are entitled to. In most Maryland personal injury cases, the figure the jury arrives at will be given great respect by the trial judge, and will only be modified under certain circumstances. A recent truck accident case illustrates the level of deference that judges give to jury verdicts.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff lost his wife and daughter, and his son was seriously injured, when the three were involved in a serious accident. The plaintiff’s wife was driving the couple’s two children in the slow lane on the highway when a Fed Ex truck slammed into the back of the family’s car. It was going approximately 65 miles per hour. The collision resulted in the deaths of the plaintiff’s wife and daughter, and seriously injured his nineteen-month-old son.

The plaintiff filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit on behalf of himself and his son against several of the parties involved, including Fed Ex and the driver of the truck who worked for an independent contractor that was retained by Fed Ex. After the case was submitted to a jury, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The verdict was broken down into economic and non-economic damages. The economic damages consisted of about 1-3% of the total damages award.

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Over the past decade, autonomous vehicles have become a reality. Not just that, but also there are more autonomous cars out on the road each month as more and more manufacturers release autonomous and semi-autonomous models. Of course, autonomous cars present a number of benefits to motorists; however, they also present an equal number of safety risks.

Not only do autonomous vehicles present safety risks, but they also present myriad legal issues that have been unanticipated until now. Thus, courts are going to be required to come up with ad hoc rules to govern the determination of liability in Maryland truck accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous Truck Kills Pedestrian

Earlier this month, a woman was killed as she crossed the road in front of a driverless truck that was operated by the ride-share company Uber. According to a recent news report, the truck was traveling at approximately 38 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, when the woman suddenly came out of the shadows and into the path of the truck.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a truck accident case raising an interesting issue that occasionally comes up in Maryland truck accident cases. Specifically, the court had to discuss whether it was an error for the lower court to refuse to instruct the jury on the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate damages. Ultimately, the court concluded that the trial court was acting within its discretion when it refused to give the requested jury instruction.

The Facts of the Case

A truck driver was involved in an accident when he rear-ended another truck that was traveling 15-18 miles per hour on the highway. After the collision, the man’s truck caught on fire. The man’s son happened to be passing by and recognized his father’s truck. The son attempted to rescue his father but was unable to do so. He was seriously burned as a result of his rescue efforts.

Later, the son told other members of his family about his father’s death. As may be suspected, the deceased driver’s wife suffered serious emotional distress as a result of hearing the news and had to be hospitalized. She was unable to return to work due to the severity of her depression.

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